These truths we hold to be self-evident:
1. When the season began we knew there would be games in which Florida’s defense had to carry the load. We’ve seen what they’re capable of the last two weeks. If they can maintain the level that they’ve shown against Ole Miss and Missouri, it’s hard to imagine the Gators not making it to Atlanta as SEC East champion.
2. Will Grier still has to learn how to throw the ball away when he’s outside the pocket rather than take a negative play and another hit. As impressive as his development has been, that’s the one area that could bite him if he doesn’t figure it out in a hurry. Get outside the tackles and if there’s no play to be had, throw it out of bounds!
3. The Gators are doing a much better job of protecting the ball this year. Through six games in 2014, they gave the ball away 16 times. Through six games in 2015, they’ve given it away only five times and none in the last two games.
4. As well as the offensive line has developed, Missouri’s D-line proved the Gators are still a work in progress. David Sharpe is a great run blocker but has problems with edge rushers and Cam Dillard has problems handling big nose tackles. Florida’s best O-line looks to be: LT Sharpe; LG Martez Ivey; C Trip Thurman; RG Antonio Riles; RT Mason Halter.
5. The play of safeties Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal has been off the charts in the last two games.
6. Demarcus Robinson in the last two games (14 catches, 177 yards, 1 TD) is what we’ve always expected. Apparently, the lights are no longer flickering but burning brightly.
7. Somebody give Joey Ivie a hug. Jonathan Bullard gets the D-line headlines because he’s played like a man possessed, but Ivie is right there behind him. Florida’s 4-man tackle rotation of Bullard, Ivie, Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan ranks among the best three groups in the country.
8. Geoff Collins’ defensive play calls were outstanding against Missouri. He dialed up the blitz a few more times than normal and did such a good job of disguising the pressure packaged that Drew Lock spent the second half dazed and confused. Lock was 7-20 for only 51 yards in the second half.
9. Brent Musberger was absolutely correct. Ever since he got chewed out publicly in game one, Kelvin Taylor has played better in every phase of the game. He runs hard, catches the ball and is a dependable pass protector. Watch them on the sidelines and you can tell the relationship between Jim McElwain and Taylor is just fine.
10. Confidence is contagious. This is a confident – not cocky – team that seems to believe good things can and will happen if they stick to the plan and believe in each other.
SOUTHERN CAL ASKS SARK TO TAKE LEAVE OF ABSENCE
USC coach Steve Sarkisian has been asked to take a leave of absence, presumably to check into rehab. ESPN’s Shelly Smith via text from a USC player was told that Sarkisian showed up “lit” to meetings Sunday. Sarkisian had a public incident with alcohol prior to the start of the season. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take over the team (3-2, 1-2 Pac-12) for the immediate future and perhaps longer.
With Sarkisian’s future in doubt, you can almost expect the Nick Saban to USC rumors to begin flowing soon, particularly if Alabama loses to Texas A&M Saturday. A loss to the Aggies would be the second in SEC play for Alabama and would almost assure that Alabama will go a third straight season without playing for the national championship.
WEEK SIX: SEC POWER RANKINGS
1. TEXAS A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): The Aggies will find out how good they are this week when Alabama comes to College Station. Everybody figures the Aggies are going to score points, but can they get the job done defensively? They’re giving up 188 yards a game on the ground and that has to be the chief concern against Bama’s power running game.
3. LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC): If Saturday’s showing against South Carolina – 18-29 passing for 228 yards and 2 TDs – is indicative of what Brandon Harris can do with his arm, LSU is going to be next to impossible to stop. Leonard Fournette got 158 yards doing part-time duty against the Gamecocks. LSU went off for 624 yards (396 rushing) one week before the Tigers’ showdown game with unbeaten Florida.
3. ALABAMA (5-1, 3-1 SEC): Bama’s defense has shut down Georgia and Arkansas. That looks really good on paper, but this week the task is shutting down Texas A&M in College Station, which might be a far more difficult task since the Aggies have more weapons in the passing game.
4. FLORIDA (6-0, 4-0 SEC): The Gators are in a very comfortable place right now. They’ve got a 2-game lead on Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri and they own the tiebreaker on 1-loss Kentucky. The defense has geared things up and is playing the way we thought they would have to play and the offense has gone two straight games without a turnover. When the Gators play LSU next Saturday, they will be through with the SEC West portion of their schedule. They can go 3-1 the rest of the way and win the East while the West teams cannibalize each other.
5. OLE MISS (5-1, 2-1 SEC): Expectations are that Laremy Tunsil will be paroled by the NCAA sometime this week. Put him at left tackle, move Fahn Cooper back to right tackle and insert Rod Taylor back at left guard and suddenly the Ole Miss offense becomes the best in the SEC. Over on defense, Tony Conner (meniscus) will be back for the Texas A&M game.
6. MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-2, 1-2 SEC): Dak Prescott had a serious case of the trots Saturday so after a token appearance against Troy, Nick Fitzgerald took over and did a rather nifty Dak Prescott imitation – 6-7 passing for 141 yards and 2 TDs, 29 yards rushing and 1 TD. The Bulldogs still have problems generating a running game but they won’t need one this week when non-conference Louisiana Tech comes to town. This team is going to win 8-9 games.
7. GEORGIA (4-2, 2-2 SEC): There will be no national championship for the Bulldogs this year and barring some unforeseen miracle of the blind man seeing proportions, they won’t make it to Atlanta for the third straight year. If that isn’t bad enough, Nick Chubb is done for the year with a torn PCL and two other torn ligaments in his knee. The Dogs gave up 519 yards and 38 points to Tennessee and blew a 21-point lead. Stick a fork in these guys. They’re done.
8. MISSOURI (4-2, 1-2 SEC): The Mizzou defense is absolutely ferocious. The Mizzou offense makes South Carolina’s offense look functional. Mizzou fans will read Drew Lock’s performance against the Gators as a quarterback controversy and will demand the return of Maty Mauk. Fact is, Lock won’t see another defense like the one he saw Saturday and he’ll only get better. The defense is certainly capable of shutting down Georgia this week. Can the offense figure a way to score a couple of touchdowns?
9. ARKANSAS (2-4, 1-2 SEC): After Alabama grounded Ground Hog (only 44 yards rushing), Bret Bielema desperately needs this week’s open date to figure out what went wrong and what has to be done to right a sinking ship. The Hogs have to go 4-2 the rest of the way just to be bowl eligible and that’s against a schedule that includes Ole Miss and LSU back-to-back on the road.
10. TENNESSEE (3-3, 1-2 SEC): It took Butch Jones 31 games to finally get a win over a top 25 team and because it was Georgia, the faithful in Rocky Top believe the Vols are on the verge of a surge to prominence.
11. AUBURN (3-2, 0-2 SEC): After a week off to re-evaluate the football team on both sides of the ball and boot Duke Williams from the team, we’ll see if Auburn is ready to begin a surge back to respectability. The big question right now is which stinks worse: Auburn’s offense or Auburn’s defense? And, playing Kentucky on the road on a Thursday night is a horrible idea for a team still trying to remember that it’s always best to unzip before you pee.
12. KENTUCKY (4-1, 2-1 SEC): The Wildcats started great last year (5-1) and then the bottom fell out. They look to Thursday night’s close encounter with Auburn as a chance to boost the theory that it’s a year later and they’re one year better. Lose and the bottom could fall out once again.
13. VANDERBILT (2-3, 0-3 SEC): The Showdown for the Bottom takes place in Columbia this weekend when Vandy travels to South Carolina. On paper this is white knuckles all the way.
14. SOUTH CAROLINA (2-4, 0-4 SEC): Injuries have Steve Spurrier playing his third-string QB, who is a former walkon. Spurrier brought Jon Hoke in to turn the defense around but the Gamecocks might be worse this year than they were last year on that side of the ball. It’s going to be a long, long year.
WEEK SIX: AP TOP 25 POLL
1. Ohio State (6-0)
2. Baylor (5-0)
3. TCU (6-0)
4. Utah (5-0)
5. Clemson (5-0)
6. LSU (5-0)
7. Michigan State (6-0)
8. FLORIDA (6-0)
9. Texas A&M (5-0)
10. Alabama (5-1)
The rest of the top 25: (11) Florida State (5-0); (12) Michigan (5-1); (13) Ole Miss (5-1); (14) Notre Dame (5-1); (15) Stanford (4-1); (16) Oklahoma State (6-0); (17) Iowa (6-0); (18) UCLA (4-1); (19) Oklahoma (4-1); (20) Northwestern (5-1); (21) Boise State (5-1); (22) Toledo (5-0); (23) California (5-1); (24) Houston (5-0); (25) Duke (5-1)
If I had a vote:
1. Ohio State (6-0)
2. Baylor (5-0)
3. Texas A&M (5-0)
4. LSU (5-0)
5. Alabama (4-1)
6. Utah (5-0)
7. Clemson (5-0)
8. Florida (6-0)
9. TCU (6-0)
10. Michigan (5-1)
The rest of my top 25 would be: (11) Ole Miss (5-1); (12) Michigan State (6-0); (13) Florida State (5-0); (14) Notre Dame (5-1); (15) Oklahoma State (6-0); (16) Stanford (4-1); (17) UCLA (4-1); (18) Northwestern (5-1); (19) Iowa (6-0); (20) Oklahoma (5-1); (21) Memphis (5-0); (22) Boise State (5-1); (23) California (5-1); (24) Toledo (5-0); (25) Duke (5-1)
RANKING THE CONFERENCES
1. SEC: There are five legitimate national contenders in Texas A&M, Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Florida. If the Aggies can knock off Alabama this weekend, the Tide is done. Whoever wins between LSU and Florida will still be in contention. Watch out for Ole Miss. With Laremy Tunsil returning along with a bunch of injured players, the Rebels might be ready to go on a roll.
2. BIG 12: It’s not that the Big 12 is actually this good, it’s just that the league still has three unbeaten teams in Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State plus a lot of very entertaining offenses. Of the three unbeatens, Baylor seems to have the best shot at running the table. TCU’s defense is horrible and at some point the Froggies won’t be able to come back. Okie State is living on borrowed time. Oklahoma’s sell by date expired Saturday against Texas.
3. PAC-12: Utah is the only unbeaten team in the league and owns a signature win over Michigan, but are the Utes that good or was Michigan still trying to figure things out when they played? Stanford looks good on paper but the Cardinal got shut down by a Northwestern team that Michigan humiliated so no one should take them seriously. All-in-all, the Pac-12’s overall star is fading fast and nobody is talking about the league being anywhere near as good as the SEC these days. Score of the week: Washington State 45, Oregon 38.
4. Big Ten: While Ohio State and Michigan State are hitting speed bumps before pulling out wins over mediocre foes, Michigan has pitched THREE straight shutouts. Michigan can burst the Michigan State bubble this week in Ann Arbor. Over in Columbus, Urban Meyer is asking J.T. Barrett to channel his inner Tebow. The new plan is for Barrett to take over in the red zone and let Cardale Jones handle things between the 20s. It worked for Urb in 2006. The rest of the league is an absolute catastrophe. Iowa is 6-0. The Hawkeyes would have trouble winning five games against an SEC schedule.
5. ACC: We have to wait until November 7 before there is a meaningful game in this league. That’s when FSU travels to Clemson. Duke has a very good defense but the Blue Devils benefit from a schedule that doesn’t include either FSU or Clemson. Syracuse lost to USF. That tells you something about the league. And remember when everyone thought Georgia Tech would be a contender?
ALL TOO EARLY HEISMAN RADAR
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Let’s put things into perspective. As a freshman, Fournette ran for 1,034 yards and 10 TDs. That was in 13 games. As a sophomore, he’s run for 1,022 yards and 12 TDs. That’s in FIVE games. And just for the heck of it, LSU is starting to dial him up for pass plays.
2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU: Because TCU’s defense is so bad, Boykin gets to play full games and that allows him to put up enormous stats. In leading TCU back from a 35-17 halftime deficit, Boykin threw for 301 yards and 2 TDs while running for 124 and 2 more. For the season he has thrown for 2,103 yards and 21 TDs while running for 366 and 4 more.
3. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor: He has thrown for 1,527 yards and 22 touchdowns in five games. Imagine what he might do if he got to play more than a series or two in the second half.
4. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: Okay, you’ve never heard of this guy but everyone in the Pac-12 knows him. Booker ran for 222 yards and 2 TDs against Cal Saturday night. For the season he’s got 665 yards and 6 TDs and is Utah’s leading receiver with 19 catches for 194 yards. If Utah remains undefeated his Heisman stock will continue to rise.
5. Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU: Okay, so in all probability he’s as big a slug of a human being as that former FSU QB. It doesn’t change the fact that once he’s on the field he can do remarkable things. He had 22 carries for 222 yards and 2 TDs against Miami and caught a 36-yard TDP to boot. For the season he’s carried 88 times for 792 yards (9.0 per carry) and 8 touchdowns.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATE
Former Gator DL coach Dan McCarney joined Tim Beckman on Countdown to Firing Day’s Extinct Species List. Things like that happen when you lose 66-7 to a D1AA opponent. North Texas has named offensive coordinator Mike Canales and defensive coordinator Chris Cosh “co-interim coaches.” Let me get this straight, your defense gives up 66 to a D1AA team and your offense only scores 7 and these guys are your co-coaches?
Maryland fired Randy Edsall. It’s something they should have done two years ago but the buyout was too much at the time. Mike Locksley was named interim coach.
Michigan has shut out three straight opponents, the first time that has happened in Division I since Kansas State in 1995. Former Gator and now Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will be on a lot of hot lists by mid-November when firing season heats up.
Did you see Baylor’s 6-8, 410-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan catch that 18-yard touchdown pass against Kansas? This guy is so big that you can’t tell whether or not he’s wearing shoulder pads.
This is a sign of the times. Four Miami players shoved and tried to intimidate FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo before Saturday night’s game in Tallahassee. Really? A kicker? Miami should be ashamed.
Maty Mauk spent the Missouri-Florida game favoriting tweets that made fun of freshman QB Drew Lock, not exactly what one suspended from the team needs to do to get back in the good graces of the coach.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
When you look at the standings, which two teams do you think will meet in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I find it difficult to go more than 2-3 days without listening to something by Pat Metheny, whether it’s his Pat Metheny Group or one of his collaboration albums such as “The Sound of Summer Running” with Bill Frisell. Sunday, I dialed it back to 1989 and The Pat Metheny Group Grammy Award album “Letter from Home.” If you aren’t familiar with Pat Metheny, a month into his freshman year at the University of Miami some 40 years ago he was made a full professor of music. He’s one of music’s real geniuses and winner of something like 20 Grammy Awards.